Ideas + Opinions

Making the complex simple

29 May 2020

Making the complex simple

Picture a Rubik’s cube in your hand. The original 6 colour-sided, 3 x 3 Rubik’s Cube has 20 moving parts, and each time one is moved, it impacts 8 others, causing exponential complexity.

In fact, there are over 43 quintillion possible combinations within this simple construct – a manageably imaginable number. It’s a little less than the square of the earth’s population, for example.

A simple thing like a Rubik’s cube is in fact incredibly complex, making it a highly relevant metaphor for where we find ourselves with modern, data-driven marketing right now.

On the one hand, the past decade of innovation and progress – exemplified by identity-driven programmatic – has promised to bring greater simplicity to audience communication. Better understanding and insights, reduced wastage, greater control, improved precision, higher conversion. But married to these value benefits has been significant complexity in the operating conditions to which marketers have been forced to adopt.

When complexity is unnecessary

Data-driven advertising has sometimes felt like a journey of two-steps forward, two-steps back. For every advantage the industry seemingly creates, it has been discounted by issues that exist systemically in the way the ecosystem works. As the ANA reported back in 2015 – supported by numerous other global studies before and after this – “there’s complexity, there’s murkiness and confusion” for brands attempting to make sense of this data-driven, technology enabled world. The 8,000 strong Lumascape of ad tech and mar tech vendors that has emerged over the past two decades is a great example – how many of these actually create incremental value for marketers and how many are necessary?

Although maturing, the ecosystem is still relatively young, having been formed through acts of innovation and Darwinistic M&A activity. Googles own advertising tech is the most well-known and expansive – often referred to as a single stack solution – but this feels like an illustration of over-simplification in definition, where even the most well-regarded experts remark on the complexity of interoperability even within the Google / Doubleclick system.

Some practitioners go even further, to suggest that what exists is actually “opacity by design” – that buy and sell side disintermediation and disfunction creates deliberate confusion and barriers to simplicity and clarity. This is certainly true of data flows, where reporting is fragmented and offers only partial sight – with just one side of the programmatic transaction visible, and key information, such as transaction IDs, being removed to prevent any meaningful analysis of the data.

Even if this is not ultimately deliberate, the industry absolutely does its best to make itself complex, whether through the unnecessary use of acronyms, imprecise language, or taking advantage of hype for the latest technology trend – one recent example illustrated all three issues, where it was found that over 40% of European start-ups (who claim to use Artificial Intelligence) don’t in fact do so.


Where will meaningful simplicity come from?

Marketers have an average of 28 different technologies in their stack, and 70% believe that number will grow over the next three years due to the complexity of the advertising ecosystem. It is recognised that the complexity of the system is exactly what allows the mass of technology vendors to thrive, and therefore is exactly why the system remains so complex. This clearly says that the innate complexity that exists with data-driven advertising will not be removed unless a global, concerted effort is made to consolidate and refine its infrastructure.

But does that mean that steps can’t be taken to build simplicity back in? Absolutely not. At Hybrid Theory, we may not be able to effect systemic change, but we know we can play our part and do the right thing to help brands and agencies. After all, when you strip away unnecessary layers of complexity, you ore only left with what really matters.

Although we don’t have all the answers, we do have some principles that can help to take complexity and make it manageable or even useful.

  1. Approach a complex subject one step at a timeWe try to break down concepts and proposals into manageable chunks and explanations. We put technology second in the sequencing of information answering “what problem does the solution solve?” ahead of “how does the technology work?” You need people to care first, and explain the what, who, why, where and when before explaining how it works.
  2. Simplicity doesn’t mean shortening or “dumbing down”There is an inevitable temptation to cut the volume of information as a response to a call for simplicity, but this can be a mistake. Simplicity is not about a requirement for reduction. David Ogilvy wrote in his book, “Ogilvy on Advertising” that “Direct-response advertisers know short copy doesn’t sell. In split-run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.” It’s a parallel, but it illustrates that short doesn’t always mean the best outcome. It’s about getting to the right amount of information, expressed in the most effective way..
  3. But less can also mean moreOne of our favourite maxims is “Edit to amplify”. This is about taking away what is non-essential to the task. A well-known behavioural economics effect is the “tyranny of choice”, where consumers can literally be given too much choice, and this becomes paralysing, or indeed they end up going for the wrong option. The USA Today, as an example, reported that “Marketers Such as Starbucks Discover That Simple Sells”, where after an era of ever-expanding menus, outlets are slimming menu choices down to core offerings.

What does Making the Complex Simple mean at Hybrid Theory?

“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” Who would argue with Albert Einstein! We certainly wouldn’t, nor would we consider ourselves geniuses. But at Hybrid Theory, we share his aspiration. Making the Complex Simple is our guiding vision – it’s why we get up in the morning, how we think and operate, and what we do to solve business problems for our client partners.

We see data-driven advertising differently to other parts of the industry. Where others use opacity to hide operating practice, data provenance and technology partners, we are clear and transparent. We believe is common-sense communication and language that eradicates confusion – we can talk tech, but only when we need to. The tools we use to navigate the search, social and programmatic landscape help us create highly effective campaigns, but we ensure that we elevate the role of people and talent to really make a difference to our business and yours.

Hybrid Theory is a new breed of digital services partner for brands and agencies, offering flexible solutions, hands-on support and independent managed execution.

We harness the best combinations of technology and talent to power smarter, data-driven advertising across the full customer journey, making the complex simple.